Mathias Frank of BMC Racing has not claimed a lot of wins in his pro career, just five since 2008, but on Tuesday’s Queen stage of the USA Pro Challenge the Swiss youngster attacked on the shortest climb. The tough climbing stage from Aspen to Breckenridge was won on the short, steep final climb of Boreas Pass.
“It was a really tough day, especially with the altitude,” said Frank. “The stage win was the most important thing for me.”
Frank bridged up to a small group of leader before the last climb, a 15 percent pitch, in which only Garmin-Sharp’s Lachlan Morton could follow. With so many riders on the same time, Frank needed five seconds over the rest of the field to take yellow, but only beat Morton by three seconds. Garmin-Sharp’s 21-year-old American donned the leaders jersey to start Wednesday’s stage.
The second stage of the Pro Challenge was a 126.1-mile climbers’ fest, ascending some 12,250 feet over three passes. The fun started almost right out of the gate, climbing the category one Independence Pass, 13.7 miles from Aspen to the 12,095-foot summit. BMC’s Michael Schar attacked on the climb and was eventually joined by KOM leader Matthew Cooke (Jamis-Hagens Berman) and Luis Lemus (Jelly Belly) before crossing the races highest point. The group built a lead of five minutes before streaking down the east side.
The high pass was the end for two riders, Peter Kennaugh of Team Sky and JJ Haedo of Jamis. Both riders stepped off their bikes before reaching the peak of the first pass.
The team of Points leader Peter Sagan lead the chase to bring back the three escapees as the pack approached the second category Hoosier Pass. By the time the peloton was halfway across South Park, they had nailed back three minutes, narrowing the gap to 2:25. RadioShack joined the chase and the peloton swept up the break away near Fairplay.
Once the second climb started, the counter attack began. Fiteen riders, including Frank, Morton, as well as RadioShack’s Andy Schleck. The group only mustered 1:40 at the start of the Hoosier Pass. Morton attacked on the slope, separating himself from the group. Schleck tried to bring him back, but failed. Over the top, Morton was alone and had two minutes over the chase group of Saxo-Tinkoff’s Michael Rogers, Frank and Livestrong rider Lawson Craddock.
Morton continued pushing on the descent, but was caught by Frank and Craddock. The trio worked together at that point to hold the chase at bay, 45 seconds ahead of the chase on the way to Moonstone Drive and the final climb of Boreas Pass.
Schleck and the rest of the chase was pulled back into the main peloton in the race’s first pass through Breckenridge, with about 34 miles to race. The leading trio, however, managed to build a lead of 1:15 just 1,200 yards shy of the Boreas Pass summit. Garmin-Sharp and the Colombia team took up the chase as they headed up the last leg-breaking ascent.
Frank bolted away from his compatriots inside of the last mile up Boreas Pass. The move doomed Craddock. Morton followed Frank, but also lost contact just short of the summit.
The race’s most consistant, and on this stage, most surprising rider, Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, launched out of the pack just 900 yards short of the summit of the last climb, dragging BMC’s Tejay van Garderen with him. Five more seconds behind, Garnmin’s Tom Danielson and Colombia’s Darwin Atapuma tried to bridge to the chase group.
“It was just a crazy race all around, hard to predict and hard to control,” van Garderen told VeloNews. “When Sagan went, I saw Danielson was struggling and I said ‘let’s do this’”
With just a mile left, Sagan and van Garderen caught Craddock. Ahead of them, however, Frank was drilling it to stay away and eventually claim the second stage. Frank coasted across, hitting a bodybuilder’s pose as he stopped the clock at 5:05:19.
Morton followed close behind to claim both the leaders yellow jersey and the Best Young Rider jersey. Sagan came across the finish line 14 seconds back, in third place, retaining his Points Leader green jersey. Sagan is third overall, only 11 second behind Morton in the GC.
Jamis-Hagen Berman’s Matt Cook hangs on to the King of the Mountains jersey, six points ahead of Garmin’s Morton. At just two stages in, BMC is the best team, 21 seconds ahead of Garmin-Sharp.
Of the big favorites, BMC’s van Garderen is in fourth at 11 seconds back. Garmin-Sharp’s Danielson is 29 back, in sixth. Saxo-Tinkoff’s Rory Sutherland is 41 seconds back in 13th. American Joe Dombroski, the de facto leader of Team Sky, is 1:04 back in 26th. The team’s Tour de France champion, Chris Froome, is suffering at altitude, some 16:08 back and about mid-pack at 76th place.
Wednesday take the riders out of Breckenridge to Steamboat Springs. The third stage is 106.6 miles with 5,865 feet of climbing, mostly on the climb up the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass. The pass is long, but not too steep. A break could get away on the roads leading to the climb, but with 20 more miles into Steamboat after the summit, it is unlikely a break will hold off Cannondale and their sprinter, Sagan.